Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
[15:1] After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: "Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great."  But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?"  And Abram said, "Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir."  And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: "This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir."  And he brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."  And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. Genesis 15:1-6 (ESV)
And he believed the Lord and he counted it to him as righteousness.
The New Testament, those books we have in our Bibles from Matthew to Revelation, in their early years were considered to be commentary on the Old Testament. Today, most don’t know the Old Testament well enough to understand that. But when Paul was writing Romans and Galatians, the Scriptures he referred to were the Old Testament writings, these were the only scriptures the Christians had until they received Paul’s letters, the earliest of the New Testament Scriptures. In these letters, often called the Pauline Corpus, he sets this verse forward as the key to understanding all of the Old Testament and the Gospel itself, it is the key to understanding Jesus. “And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” Paul sets to work explaining that it is by faith and not works that one is saved.
 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephes. 2:8-9 (ESV)
Abraham believed the Lord and he counted it to him as righteousness. So when we believe the Lord it is counted to us as righteousness. For the righteous will live by faith.
Abraham believed the Lord. That is Abraham took the Lord at his word. He did not doubt the Lord. Yahweh spoke and Abraham believed. At Genesis 15, the Lord’s recorded dealings with Abraham have been few. God has called him up out of Ur of the Chaldees, present Iraq, and sent him to Canaan (modern Israel) as a sojourner. He has promised him land. But Abraham is in a land of strangers with only the family he has brought with him. His nephew Lot has taken to city life over in Sodom. In fact he has gotten himself into a little trouble over there and was taken as war plunder when four kings met against five and Sodom and Gomorrah were taken. Abraham has to go rescue him. He takes his army of 318 trained men, and defeats the enemy and rescues Lot.
Genesis 14, the very end of it, shows that Abraham has faith. He gives a tenth of his plunder to the Lord, by way of a priest named Mechelzidek who lives in the city now called Jerusalem, and the rest of it back to the king of Sodom and Gomorrah. He is a rich man already.
It is after these things that the Lord comes to Abraham, promising to be his shield and telling Abraham that his reward would be great. Greater that is than the one he just gave away. And it is here that Abraham speaks his mind with the Lord, opens his heart and throws his cares on Him. Lord I have no son. That is the gist of all that is said. I am childless, I have no son. You could give me all the wealth in the world, what is it if I should die tomorrow and have no one to carry on what I have started. You promise me all this land that I live in now, you make me rich enough that I have my own army, and yet what is it. I have no child.
Now that is faith. Abraham would not be talking to God about giving him a child if he did not already believe that God could do something about it. Abraham knows that God is all powerful and can do what he wants. He knows the Lord can take care of this too. He is not afraid to pray to God about his concerns. Perhaps he doesn’t know if God will do it, but he knows God can. And When God promises him offspring, descendants to number the stars with, Abraham believes him. And this the Lord counts as righteousness. Simple faith in the Lord, that the Lord will hold to his promises.
So it is with us also, when we believe the Lord’s promises to us, this too is counted as righteousness. Of course, this presumes that God has made us a promise, or maybe even a couple. Otherwise what are we to believe? Faith is more than knowing God exists, it is trusting him with something. Trusting him to be true to his word.
Now God spoke to Abraham in a dream. We have no promise that God will do the same for us. Not to say he won’t, but I am just a bit skeptical when someone claims this has happened. Abraham’s story here bears itself out in life, and it is demonstrated that God actually did talk to Abraham in a dream. For the rest of us there is God’s word. Abraham was a prophet, through whom God’s word was given. God speaks to us there. He talks to us through Holy Scripture where his word is recorded. If we want to know what God has to say to us, what he promises us, then we go there and read it there.
It is there that we learn righteousness is by faith and not works. That faith in Jesus Christ alone saves. It is there that God promises not only to be Abraham’s shield, but ours too. It is there that God promises to hear our prayers, and bids us to throw our worries on him. And it is when we believe God, that our faith is counted to us as righteousness.
Righteousness. To be righteous is to be innocent, declared not guilty. And this is what Jesus does he declares you not guilty. He forgives your sins. He dies for you on the cross. He takes care of everything we need to have taken care of. He pays our sinful debt that death would have not hold over us. He does this so that we would live by faith. There is no other way.
But God has said it, and it is therefore true. Your sins are forgiven.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.